04 August 2008

Perseids Meteor Shower

While observing in the mountains two weeks ago I saw several meteors streak across the sky. Meteors are always a joy to watch because they appear completely without warning yet are so brilliant to see. Seeing one is the reward for keeping focused on the sky and keeping your eyes open and attentive. Every night of the year there are many meteors to be seen but throughout the year there are particularly intense periods of meteor activity called Meteor Showers. The biggest show of the year is the Perseids Meteor Shower which peaks this year during the morning of August 12th. StarDate Online has a helpful list of meteor showers throughout the year and provides some insight how they happen.

There are two simple guidelines for observing the Perseids. First of all you want to be in a dark location with a clear view of the eastern sky. From San Francisco there is a great deal of light pollution which will obscure many of the meteors. The brightest meteors will still be visible but the rate will be considerably lower than the 1-meteor-per-minute rate you would see in very dark skies. So if you want a good view, drive east away from urban centers. Second of all, you want to view them in the early morning hours when the earth is speeding into the spacedust that makes up the meteor shower and when the moon has set. The best viewing should be from 2 AM until 4:30 AM. NASA has a helpful page showing where to look in the sky. During the early morning hours the rate will increase up to a maximum of 1 per minute.

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